Congress leader and author Shashi Tharoor said Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has a "fairly clear level" of military backing and could be a "wonderful face" for peace or an "effective voice for hostility" depending on what the Army wants.
Tharoor described Khan as a "fine human being" and a "good guy" whom he has known for a long time.
Tharoor said one has to understand however that he is now Pakistan's Prime Minister with a "fairly clear level of military backing".
Khan is a "good guy and if the military decide they want peace, he will be a wonderful face for that peace but if the military decide they want hostility, I'm sure he is equally capable of being an effective voice for hostility," Tharoor said Thursday during a conversation titled India Sutra' held at the Jaipur Literature Festival, organised as part of Season of India at Asia Society.
Tharoor was responding to a question on whether the election of Khan, a popular cricketer, as Pakistan's Prime Minister would see a "sporting spirit" coming into play between the two countries. He added that he would love to see more cricket being played between India and Pakistan.
He, however, emphasised that the experience that India has had with Pakistan for the last 70 years "shows us that it is what the Pakistani military decides that will determine the prospects for any genuine or lasting peace between our countries."
He said he has often remarked that in India the State has an army and in Pakistan, the army has a State. He said the Army in Pakistan has ruled directly for 32 years and indirectly for the other 38 years by "essentially controlling how much the government could do or not do.
"Every time a civilian government in Pakistan has attempted to make some progress in responding to Indian peace overtures, every single time it's been interrupted by either a military action directly undertaken by the Pakistan Army like in Kargil or militants unleashed by the Pakistani Army's notorious ISI as we saw on 26/11," he said, referring to the Kargil war of 1999 and the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 carried out by 10 terrorists belonging to Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group.
"The question that comes up to any Indian government is - is it worth talking to a civilian government in Pakistan or are they all either unable or unwilling to fulfill their professions of peace. That worry will remain, whoever is Prime Minister," he said.
Tharoor added that the paradox of India-Pakistan relations is that there is very little problem between Indians and Pakistanis as people. He said it is "unfair" to expect cricket or any other sport to bear the burden of political relationship or military tension between two countries.
"Sport is a sport, it should be seen as such. Whether we win or lose will have no bearing on whether we are going to be able to make peace with the Pakistani authorities. I honestly think we should separate the two," he said.
The 'Season of India' is a series of programs and special events on India's arts and culture that is being held in conjunction with the exhibition The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India, on view at Asia Society Museum from September 14 through January 20, 2019.